It Hugs Back
Inside Your Guitar
A while back I went to see Yo La Tengo with a good friend, and that show has in some ways colored our friendship. I pride myself on catholic tastes, though they got me in a bind the other morning, when the dental hygienist asked, "So what kind of music do you like?" Not that I can reply with her hand in my mouth, but I'm not sure what I would say if it wasn't. I dunno. Good music? That is useless.
My friend, however, curates his likes and dislikes carefully and definitively. In going to see Yo La Tengo, he wanted to hear the sweet pulsating Yo La Tengo, the hushed rush of "Cherry Chapstick", the Georgia songs off And the World Turns Itself Inside-Out. When they played those, he was delighted, but for the other two-thirds of the show, where the band flexed its noise and cuteness muscles, he was incredulous. The name Yo La Tengo is Spanish for "I Got it", heard yelled by Hispanic outfielders when front man Ira Kaplan spent his childhood in the cheap seats. That night, however, the name meant "we are not everything to all people." The extended skronk pyrotechnics were categorically not what my friend wanted to see, and my refusal to agree that the show was a disaster has remained a bit of a sore spot between us.
To smooth this over, I'm going to buy him a copy of Inside Your Guitar by It Hugs Back. It's the kind of cover image and band name that frankly fails to inspire confidence, but, after discarding the wrapper, It Hugs Back completely nails that soft side of Yo La Tengo, so effectively that I might send Yo La Tengo a copy as well. I usually want to slam a band for embodying the sole aspect of another band with a richer sound, but It Hugs Back does this so well. "Work Day" the second song on the album has a guitar melody that saunters down a suburban lane, waving drowsily at the organ burbling on the neighbor's porch, sweet sentiments about the quiet victories of love whispered at the threshold of audibility, emerging with fragments like try to concentrate on the things we like, and fill our minds with the better things in our lives. Thinking like this is too narrow for a philosophy, but then philosophy rarely makes for an enjoyable lifestyle. It also results in one of the best albums I've heard all year. Behold this video:
"Don't Know" casts this sentimentality in a slightly more melancholy mode. Curl up on the couch against the winds of modernity music. The whole record proceeds in this flawless manner, each song standing out like differing intensities of blue-gray laid out in neat stripes. "Soon" smoothes the edges down to flat surface, radiating a band of light like a sunset, followed by a gently picked guitar ushering in the dark.
In keeping with sounding like great albums of the past, Inside Your Guitar's "side two" opens with the shimmering power pop of "Back Down" a song that exhibits the nervous bravery of a band that has to be pushed onto the stage. "Unaware" lolls around an organ pulse like a coquettish schoolgirl; "Remember" is the soft patter of Sunday morning rain on the awning of your beloved. "Now + Again" is as close as the band gets to the garage; you can picture a young couple with a picnic basket thoroughly packed trotting down the stairs only to glance at each other, and quickly repair to the floor of their apartment. It Hugs Back is the lush romance of the third floor walkup, of the evaporation of the rest of the world in the presence of the one you love. So what if it sounds like the sweet Yo La Tengo songs? I love the sweet Yo La Tengo songs, and when we concentrate on the thing we like, perhaps we need not be disrupted by anything else.
Alex V. Cook listens to everything and writes about most of it. His latest book, the snappily titled Louisiana Saturday Night: Looking for a Good Time in South Louisiana's Juke Joints, Honky-Tonks, and Dance Halls is an odyssey from the backwoods bars and small-town dives to the swampside dance halls and converted clapboard barns of a Louisiana Saturday Night. Don't leave Heathrow without it. His first book Darkness Racket and Twang is available from SideCartel. The full effect can be had at alex v cook.com